Baking a recipe at home is hardly a political act and yet, as a show of solidarity, you can’t really argue against it. With all of the horror going on in Ukraine right now, it feels important to honor and celebrate Ukranian culture, especially its recipes. If that sounds like homework, let me put it another way: Ukranian food is delicious and if you decide to give it a go, do what I did and start with Olia Hercules’ Makoviy Rulet, an elaborate Ukrainian braided apple poppyseed bread.
This recipe comes to us by way of London-based journalist Felicity Spector, my second guest on You’ve Got to Taste This. Not only is Felicity a scholar of the region, having won a Fulbright to Harvard where she did her masters, she’s a wonderful cook as evidenced by her popular Instagram page. Our talk today covers everything from the rise of British cuisine to her heroic act helping to gather and deliver baking supplies to ravaged bakeries in Kyiv.
You can listen to the whole thing here:
I made the bread a few days before we spoke and the whole process was mesmerizing. For starters, you simmer a whole 1/2 cup of poppyseeds in milk until it’s absorbed, then blend that with toasted pecans, sugar, vanilla, and butter to make a paste.
Meanwhile, you make the loveliest dough with warm milk, yeast, demerara sugar (I used brown sugar), salt, eggs, vanilla, and flour, bringing it together roughly and then letting it rise for an hour.
After it rises, you knead it for five minutes, then let it rest for 15 minutes before rolling it out into a big rectangle.
Then the real fun begins: you slather it with the poppyseed paste, which you’ve mixed with diced apples.
And then, channeling all of the confidence you can, you begin to roll it up into a coil like you’re making a Swiss roll (not that I’ve ever made a Swiss roll, I just watch a lot of the Great British Baking Show). Then you perform surgery, slicing it lengthwise to bisect it. Finally, you coil one of the halves into a snail, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and wrap the other length of dough around it. Got all that?
And just when you think that you’ve seriously messed this up, that there’s no way this will ever bake into anything except a fiasco, you pop it into a 350 oven and bake for 30 minutes and watch as this bizarre, wet, coiled weirdo fluffs up into the most elegant, dramatic-looking braided bread you’ve seen since Shabbat dinner at your Aunt Rhoda’s house.
Seriously, this is one of the most stunning transformations that I’ve experienced in my kitchen. It was almost impossible not to nibble on it as it cooled, and when I finally served it to my friends who came over for dinner, we were all marveling at the balance of fluffy bread, sweet and earthy poppyseed paste, and fresh-tasting apples. It was hard to tell if it was a dessert or a first-course bread basket kind of thing, but much like the floor wax/dessert topping SNL sketch, it could very easily be both!
I feel so lucky to be doing this podcast where my guests push me to make things that I’d never think of making on my own. So thank you to Felicity Spector for leading me to Makoviy Rulet: a perfect reminder of what’s at stake as Russia continues its aggression on the other side of the world.
For the dough:
- 200 mL warm whole milk
- 1 packet fast-rising yeast (7 grams)
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar If you have demerara sugar, use that
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as necessary
For the filling:
- 200 mL whole milk
- 1/2 cup poppy seeds If they've been in your cabinet for a while, get new ones: they can go rancid
- 1/2 cup lightly-toasted pecans
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons lightly salted butter
- 2 apples I used Granny Smith
For the glaze:
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Start by making the dough. Mix the yeast and the warm milk (slightly warmer than body temperature) and set aside until it gets a little foamy, about ten minutes. Whisk in the eggs, the salt, and vanilla.
- Sift in the flour and begin to bring it together with your hands. If it's ultra-sticky and unworkable, add a little more flour until it comes together but isn't too dry. Stretch it and fold it for a bit and then cover it with a towel and leave it in a warm place to rise for an hour.
- While that's happening, make your poppyseed paste. Simmer the milk with the poppyseeds on low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every so often, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Allow to cool briefly and then blend in a food processor with the other paste ingredients until you have a shiny thick black pate.
- No need to peel the apples: just core and dice them (about 1/2-inch dice) and mix with the paste.
- Lift the dough on to a well-floured board and knead it for five minutes. Shape it into a smooth ball and leave it for 15 to 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.
- Now, on that same well-floured surface, begin rolling out the dough. You're shooting for a 12 X 16-inch rectangle, more or less.
- Dot with the poppyseed apple filling, spreading all around with an off-set spatula. Now the scary part: roll it up from the longer side into a log shape. Then cut the log lengthwise so you have two strips of dough with an exposed filling.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take the first piece of dough and twist around into a snail shape with the filling-exposed upward. Lift that on to the baking sheet and then wrap the other dough around it, also with the filling upward, pinching it closed. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix together the egg yolks and milk and brush all over the dough. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes: it should puff up and eventually start to turn golden. You want to take it out before it gets too dark; the dough will continue to cook as it rests. Lift the parchment on to a wire rack to cool down. Serve at room temperature or still a little warm. Some salted butter on it might be nice.